Guardian Ad Litem

The third in a series on child custody.

Sometimes in a custody action a judge will appoint a guardian ad litem. What is a guardian ad litem, and how do they play a role in a Mississippi child custody case?

A guardian ad litem is an attorney who must take annual training and register with the Bar to fulfill this important role. The guardian ad litem essentially acts as the judge’s eyes and ears in investigating questions about the best interests of the child or children in the custody suit.

Judges are required to appoint a guardian ad litem in certain situations, such as contested adoption actions or when abuse or neglect is alleged. In other cases, judges have the discretion to appoint a guardian ad litem to assist in custody issues.

Once appointed, the guardian ad litem is granted the power and responsibility to investigate on behalf of the court. An investigation usually includes interviews and in-home visits with the parties and children. The guardian ad litem may also request documents, conduct background checks, interview witnesses and employ other methods depending on the circumstances of the case.

At the conclusion of the guardian ad litem’s investigation, he or she will usually present a written report of all the investigation’s findings. Many judges require the guardian ad litem to present an Albright factor discussion (for more on the Albright factors, see this blog post) along with their recommendations as to which parent should have custody. (Note: Some judges strictly enforce a rule that only the attorneys may receive a copy of the report – the parties may only review the report in their respective attorney’s presence.)

While the guardian ad litem’s recommendation is not binding upon the judge, it is often followed. In fact, if the recommendation of the guardian ad litem is not to be followed, judges generally must state, on the record, their reasoning for rejecting the recommendation.

The appointment of a guardian ad litem significantly impacts a custody action. If you are or will be involved in a custody action, it is very important to seek out the advice of a qualified family law attorney.